Afrobeats: The birth of Afro-Adura
The fast-rising genre is spawning a new wave of Afrobeats stars, and adds a spiritual dimension rooted in a century-old African church.
In January 2023, Boomplay, the music streaming platform that operates across many African markets, launched its “Afro-Adura” playlist. Featuring songs from Asake, Seyi Vibez, T.I Blaze, Zinoleesky, Mohbad, Barry Jhay and many other Afrobeats artists, Boomplay described Afro-Adura as “music for the street by the street with the major element being the introspective and motivational lyrics”. It added that the Nigerian music scene has grown massively over the past few years and that the soundscape has continued to diversify, hence the birth of Afro-Adura.
It would seem that Boomplay is spot on in its description of Afro-Adura, Nigeria’s latest pop genre, save for its omission of the role that Nigeria’s legacy of amalgamated religions has played in the evolution of the genre. In recent times, songs laced with rich prayerful undertones by artistes from the slums have slowly come to dominate Nigeria’s entertainment scene, much to the delight of millions of music consumers in Nigeria. This music genre has been categorised by fans as “Afro-Adura”.
While the word “Afro” is cut from Afrobeats, “Adura” is a Yoruba word that literally means prayers. Diamond Jimma’s “Aje” and T.I Blaze’s “Sometimes” are just two of the most resonant Afro-Adura songs.
The growing influence of religion on Nigerian pop sounds can be observed in many new music releases especially in the new Afro-Adura wave, even in songs that were made for heavy nightclub rotations. Take “2:30”, the number one song across Nigeria at the moment, for instance. There, amidst a percussive mesh of shakers, drumbeats, piano cuts and vaunt lines about being the best in his class, Asake still finds a way to reference a certain ‘Orimolade’ by poignantly quipping in Yoruba, “Orimolade gbe mi de be” (or “Orimolade make me successful”).
Moses Orimolade Tunolase was the founder of the Eternal Sacred Order of the Cherubim and Seraphim (“ESOCS”), a Nigerian syncretic church with heavy links to the United Native African Church Cathedral (“The African Church”) and the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, arguably the oldest church in Lagos, Nigeria. Moses Orimolade, popularly known as Baba Aladura or “The Praying Father” used water to heal people and he reportedly left the Holy Trinity parsonage after he was harassed because of his refusal to sell the water he freely gave out for healing. He would later go on to found the Cherubim and Seraphim (C&S) Church in June 1925. Indeed, Asake’s extensive connections to the C&S Church have been noted by some fans, even though in the song “Ototo”, an ‘Afro-Adura” song, he declared that he was “highly celestial”, thereby revealing his dual link to the Celestial Church of Christ, another African Initiated Church founded by Samuel Oshoffa in Porto-Novo, Benin, in September 1947.
The links to syncretic Christianity may have attracted new Afrobeats fans both home and abroad, drawn to a sound rooted in African religious traditions: “These guys are authentic, and you can’t take away their authenticity,” Ayomide Tayo, a veteran music journalist in Nigeria remarks. “The street credence, cultural elements and the complete appreciation of their background are the things that make their music unique,” he adds.
Another music journalist connects the widespread acceptance of Afro-Adura to Nigeria’s endemic poverty and the influence of charismatic pentecostalism in offering a way out: “Most of the artists who make Afro-Adura grew up poor. They [ventured into] spiritually related music because of their experiences after living on the streets,” Adeayo Adebiyi, a music journalist at PULSE Nigeria notes. “These artists have learnt to go to church and give glory to God after all of their tough experiences.”.
For a century, and especially over the past 30 years, Nigeria has become fertile ground for evangelical Christianity. A 2006 study revealed that roughly six in ten Protestants and three in ten Catholics were either Charismatic or Pentecostal. Those numbers have only grown with the deaily precarity of Nigerian life. The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), for instance, claims to host more than three million visitors at its annual “convention”; the Church also plants a church at every “5 minutes walking distance” in Nigeria. The Living Faith Church, another pentecostal megachurch in Nigeria, claims a weekly attendance of more than 50,000 people.
The steady growth of Afro-Adura can also be attributed to crisp sound engineering and more advanced music production. “I think that from 2021, we can find more elements of spiritualism in Nigerian music due to so many technical things,” Samuel Korieh, an entertainment lawyer, says. “The production is better, and the sound engineering is better. The listener can feel the music better through the beats. Producers like Magicsticks and Pheelz have really elevated the music. Artistes have also found better ways to merge spiritual stuff with everyday life struggles on the street”, he reiterated. Yet, whichever way the pendulum over the argument about why Afro-Adura was gaining popularity swung, the reality remains that the Nigerian audience don’t seem to be tiring of the sonic offerings.
In January, Boomplay confirmed that Seyi Vibez had amassed over 100 million streams on the platform. The artiste also has 612 million total plays on Audiomack and more than 1 million monthly listeners on Spotify; streaming numbers that reflect Seyi Vibez’s healthy listenership amongst the growing army of Afro-Adura converts. When asked about the elements of his music, he admits that he incorporates “some Islamic vibe and some celestial thing” into the music he makes.
“They (the Afro-Adura artists) tell the story of the Afrobeats generation, the core reason why Afrobeats has been successful. What these guys are missing are the larger-than-life CEOs who can sell the vision to the world. If we have the cultural architects and the team of super CEOs, A&R’s, video directors and other key music personalities, these guys will be the hottest acts out of here. These guys are authentic. Behind the shiny exterior of Afrobeats, these guys have the substance,” Ayomide Tayo emphasises.
And where’s the lie. The incursion of consecrated religious practices into Nigerian pop music doesn’t appear to be stopping anytime soon. The seventh slide on a recent Instagram post by Bnxn, one of Nigeria’s latest pop stars seems to confirm this. In the upload of a screenshot of a WhatsApp conversation with a spiritual father while on his European tour, Bnxn is told that he is now in the land of Jahweh where the Jashua Messiah rules. The spiritual father tells him to ask for the ancient synagogue where Jesus Christ prayed and to ask for anything from God before or after his show, and that God will give it to him. The spiritual father tells Bnxn to locate a temple if he couldn’t find a synagogue and that if he prayed wholeheartedly before it, he would sooner have cause to thank “The God of Israel”.
For Bnxn, no instruction could be more prophetic. Afro-Adura is well and truly alive.